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Backpack Awareness

Now that the 2018-2019 school year is underway, you may have noticed that your child is already carrying a heavy load in his or her backpack. The American Occupational Safety Association has noticed the same thing, so they sponsor Backpack Awareness Day. This year’s event is Wednesday, September 26. Parents, educators, school administrators, and students all have a responsibility to help prevent the possibility of chronic back pain that can start in early elementary school.

Growing Backs Can’t Handle Excessive Weight

If you struggle to pick up your child’s backpack with your hands, imagine what all the weight is doing to his or her growing back and spine. When a child carries a heavy backpack for too long, it can cause poor posture, as well as neck and shoulder pain that can interfere with learning and proper growth. Excessive backpack weight has become so widespread that some states have considered or passed legislation limiting how much weight school children should carry in their backpacks.
In absence of formal legislation, it’s up to parents and teachers to take a common-sense approach to avoid back injuries in children. According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), the weight of a child’s backpack should not exceed 10 percent of his or her body weight. However, a five percent limit is ideal. The reason for this is that a heavy backpack causes children to lean forward to support the weight of the backpack and this can lead to long-term problems with posture.

How to Choose the Right Backpack for Your School-Aged Child

In addition to limiting the backpack load to five to 10 percent of a child’s body weight, the ACA offers the following recommendations for backpack safety:

  • Choose a backpack with wide, adjustable shoulder straps. This allows the backpack to fit better to the shape of your child’s body. It’s also important to ensure that the straps are tight enough to keep the backpack in place. Loose shoulder straps increase the likelihood of spinal misalignment and back pain because they cause the backpack to dangle rather than lie firmly against your child’s back.
  • When your child puts the backpack on, make sure that it doesn’t lie more than four inches beneath his or her waistline. A low-hanging backpack increases the weight load on your child’s shoulders, causing him or her to lean forward to support it.
  • The backpack you select should have wide and padded shoulder straps. Wide straps allow for greater flexibility in placing the backpack while padded straps prevent the backpack from digging into your son or daughter’s shoulders and leaving marks.
  • Look for a backpack that offers individual compartments to help distribute the weight of its contents more evenly. When your child packs his or her backpack, it’s important to place the bulkiest items the furthest away from the part of the backpack that will rest against the back.
  • Instruct your student to always use both straps when carrying the backpack. Frequently carrying a backpack by only one strap will cause an unequal distribution of weight. This increases the likelihood of muscle spasms, neck pain, and low back pain.
  • Larger backpacks might encourage your child to place more weight in the backpack that he or she can reasonably handle. Decide together what your student needs to carry back and forth between home and school and then purchase a backpack that will fit only those items.

Troubleshooting Backpack Problems

Perhaps you have followed each of these tips and your child’s teacher still insists that he or she carry several heavy books home each night. If so, contact the teacher to express your concerns and propose an alternative solution. Perhaps your student could obtain an electronic version of the same book and carry that back and forth between home and school instead. Another idea is to leave the heaviest books at school and only take home workbooks and hand-out material. Don’t hesitate to take your concerns to the school principal if the teacher seems unwilling to work with your family.

Some parents attempt to bypass this problem by purchasing a backpack on wheels instead of one that their child must carry. Unfortunately, this often creates different problems when the rolling backpacks clutter crowded hallways and present a tripping hazard for other students. Because of this, the ACA only recommends them for students who have physical disabilities that prevent them from carrying a traditional backpack.

Seek Chiropractic or Other Medical Care if Necessary

If your child has chronic back pain due to carrying a backpack or another cause, it’s important to seek medical intervention as early as possible. Your child’s pediatrician can help develop a strategy to prevent and treat back pain.

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